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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 8, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

    Spectacles vs Watches – Battle Commences

    Davin O'Dwyer

    In yesterday’s Innovation Talk column, I admitted that I’m a bit sceptical about the potential for smart glasses, despite the rather cool Google Project Glass video – I’m just not convinced that they represent the future of mobile computing.

    I am convinced of one thing, however: they are not going to act as a replacement for a smartphone, not immediately and, I’d wager, not ever. People are not going to wear Google glasses all the time – as a glasses wearer, trust me, they just won’t – so users are going to carry phones with them for when they’re not wearing the glasses. And if you’re carrying a phone for those occasions you don’t want to wear the glasses – when you’re not in the mood for the dorky look, say – why bother with the glasses? The phone is going to be far more useful than the glasses for a whole range of apps and tasks, so the specs are likely going to be an auxiliary device, and thus remain a niche gimmick.

    (Plus, as tech writer Tom Davenport put it to me last week, imagine how difficult it will be to convince people that having a cellular antenna strapped to your head for 12 or so hours every day poses no health implications? It’s a Daily Mail scare story waiting to happen.)

    I thought a similar fate might doom smart watches – your phone can do more, so why bother with another gadget – until I read MG Siegler’s take on the keenly anticipated Pebble watch, which interacts with iPhones and Android phones:

    “Will Apple make a wrist device? I don’t know. But they should at the very least be thinking about it.
    All I know is that at least 50 times a day I reach in my pocket to see why my phone just buzzed. A new email? A DM? An iMessage? Some sports score alert? Instagram? Path? Facebook? Foursquare?
    I reach into my pocket, pull out my iPhone, turn on the screen, see the notification, then turn off the screen, then put the phone back in my pocket.
    Imagine if I could just look at my wrist?”

    This makes a lot more sense – the ease of low-friction smartphone monitoring without the, you know, stupid glasses. As an auxiliary device, the wristwatch has a lot of advantages over a geeked-out pair of glasses, in that it’s always viewable, without necessarily being intrusive.

    Admittedly, the notion of needing an auxiliary device to augment a smartphone might seem the height of nerdiness to most people, but there are plenty of consumers out there lusting after the Pebble – judging by this Guardian report from Charles Arthur, Pebble is looking like a monster hit, even before its Kickstarter funding drive finishes up in a few weeks.

    Clearly, mobile computing is about to get a lot more personal – wearable computers are on their way. But when it comes to ubiquitous, on-body computing devices, I reckon the e-ink wristwatch is going to trump the smart-spectacles. Of course, just as inevitably, the incidence of people being distracted by notifications popping up on their wrist device is going to become the new scourge of real-world human interaction. How ever did Dick Tracy overcome that problem?


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